Accidental pear and apple tart


I left a couple of ripe pears and apples in the fridge while I was away over Christmas, and when I returned they were just a little past their best. I’d invited 2 of The Nieces to lunch yesterday, so Yorkshire pudding was obviously on the menu. Because of that, the plain flour was already out of the cupboard. So this tart happened.

You’ll need a 25cm/9 in shallow cake/tart tin and an oven pre-heated to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4 (I turned the oven down after making the Yorkshire puddings and popped the tart in there while we were eating the roast). You will also need a rolling pin which is and has always been one of my favourite kitchen tools.

Of course, you can buy pre-prepared sweet shortcrust pastry, but I love mixing and rolling pastry; it reminds me of making jam tarts as a child, standing on a chair to reach the kitchen counter. I can reach the counter without a chair now. Just.



200g plain flour

100g butter cut into small pieces

20g caster sugar

pinch of salt

about 3 tablespoons cold water


2 pears

2 apples

small pinch of cinnamon

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon lemon juice


Mix the flour and sugar in a large bowl.

Add the butter and rub it thoroughly into the flour/sugar. (You need some patience to do this properly, so I suggest music on the sound system rather than political commentary or news on the radio.)

Add water, stirring with a knife, until you can form the pastry into a ball with your (very clean!) hands.

Place the ball of pastry on a floured surface and roll it to make a thin circle big enough to line the tin. (Again, not a good idea to have news on the radio when you have a rolling pin in your hands.)

If you have pastry left over you can wrap it in cling film and freeze it, or you can make a few of those jam tarts.

Peel the apples (you don’t need to peel the pears as the skin is thinner). Slice the apples and pears into 1 cm thick  discs and cut out the cores.

Lay the fruit discs on the pastry base. (I used the larger discs on the outside and the small ones towards the centre, and alternated pear and apple).

Shake a little cinnamon over the fruit, then squeeze on a little lemon juice and finally drizzle the maple syrup over the fruit.

Place in the pre-heated oven for 45 minutes.

We ate it on its own, but it would be lovely with some vanilla ice cream or single cream.





Conquering my fear of duck.

Roast-then-grilled duck breast with pears.

Duck is one of those things that I’ve always been a little afraid to cook, to be honest.

Mainly because I’ve eaten it cooked so well in Chinese, French and South East Asian dishes that I felt that I should just leave it to the experts.

And then, in the spirit of improvised food (which is, after all, what we’re all about here on the Essex Road Recipe blog) I saw 2 juicy duck breasts in James Elliott, and some very ripe conference pears in the Market Garden, and I did this very simple thing…


(Serves 2)

2 duck breasts

1 pear

salt and pepper.

What to do (roughly speaking)

Pre-heat the oven to 220C/440F/Gas mark 7

Place the 2 duck breasts skin side down on cooking foil.

Sprinkle with salt and ground black pepper.

Slice the pear into strips and place the pear strips on top of the duck breasts

Wrap the foil loosely around the duck and pear, and place on a roasting dish in a hot oven for 25 minutes

Remove from the oven, open up the foil parcel and pour off the duck fat/juices.

(I’ve kept the duck fat, and I’ll let you know when I find a good use for it.)

Place the duck breasts on top of the pear slices with the fatty, skin side on top.

Grill under a hot grill for 5 – 7 minutes until the skin is brown and slightly crispy.


Serve immediately with green veg.




btw if you’d like a box containing 2 sets of 50 Essex Road Recipe cards to give for Christmas, just contact me here and I’ll get them to you. £20. Bargain.

Aubergine nut roast with redcurrant sauce

This recipe didn’t make it into the Essex Road Recipes box set because it was declared too long by the editor. Which I guess is why they call them editors….

It’s loosely based on a Mary Berry recipe – “if you’re going to steal, steal from the best”.

For the nut roast:
1 large aubergine, sliced into rounds about 1 cm thick
Olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250g shelled mixed nuts (I used brazils, pecans, blanched almonds, hazelnuts and a few pine nuts). Blitz these together briefly in a food processor. If you don’t have one, put them in a resealable plastic bag and bash and roll them with a rolling pin.
100g fresh breadcrumbs – Raab’s the bakers sometimes sell bags of these at the end of the day.
Grated rind and juice of half a lemon
100g mature Cheddar, grated
2 eggs, beaten
A handful of chopped coriander leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper
50 g sunflower seeds

For the redcurrant sauce:
1 pack/punnet of tiny redcurrants
About 1 teaspoon grated ginger root 5 or 6 mint leaves
1 very small chopped red chilli.


What to do. Roughly speaking:

The nut roast:


Preheat your oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6. Grease a non-stick loaf tin.

Place the aubergine discs on foil on your grill pan and drizzle them with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill on one side for about 4 minutes and then turn them and grill for another 2 minutes. They need to be cooked enough to bend, as you’re going to use them to line the loaf tin.

In a fairly large pan, heat some more olive oil and fry the onions and celery for a couple of minutes on a high heat, let them brown a little bit as this intensifies the flavour. Add the crushed garlic and cook for another couple of minutes.

Take this off the heat and let it cool, add the beaten eggs and lemon juice, then all the other ingredients except for the sunflower seeds. Mix it well.
Line the bottom and sides of the loaf tin with the cooked aubergine, so that the aubergine slices come up a bit higher than the sides of the tin. Press the nut mix down very firmly, you want this to be really dense. Once you’ve filled the tin, fold the tops of the aubergine discs onto the top of the loaf. They won’t completely cover it, but that’s fine, that’s what the sunflower seeds are for.

Bake in your pre-heated oven for about 40 minutes. Then cover the top with a layer of sunflower seeds and pop it back in for another 10 – 15 minutes.
You can either slice it in the loaf tin and ease out the slices, or turn the entire nut roast out onto a flat board and serve from there. If you’re going to do the latter, let it cool for a few minutes first.

The redcurrant sauce:


Pick all the tiny currants off the stalks, rinse and put in a small saucepan on a very low heat with the grated ginger, mint leaves and a small amount of chopped red chilli. Slowly bring to a simmer and simmer for about 5-7 minutes. Taste the sauce, if it’s very bitter, add a small amount of sugar, agave or maple syrup and stir it in well. Allow to cool and fish out the mint leaves and larger pieces of ginger before serving with the nut roast.

Yes, and…Spicy First Frost Soup.

IMG_0704I woke on Monday morning to a clear blue sky and a sparkling layer of frost on the roofs of the walks on Popham Street and..

..last week I was lucky enough to be working in Lisbon, where I had a delicious chestnut soup, and …..

..the inside of our Halloween pumpkin was in the fridge waiting for me to think of something to do with it..

…and so this soup happened….

I first made it without the hot pepper sauce and liked it, but it may be too sweet for some of you, so I added the hot pepper sauce just to give it a bit of a kick.


The diced flesh of a small pumpkin (ours was about 6ins/15cm diameter)

About 20 roast chestnuts

Half an onion, 2 garlic cloves, 1 small carrot – all finely chopped

A cinnamon stick

½ teaspoon of nutmeg.

Generous pinch of salt and black pepper.

500 ml water or vegetable stock (I found it tasty enough with just water, but use stock if you prefer)

2 or 3 drops of hot pepper sauce (Encona is our family favourite).

What to do (roughly speaking):

Roasting and peeling the chestnuts (this is time consuming, so be prepared.)

Preheat the oven to 240C/425F/Gas mark 7

Make an “X”-shaped incision in each chestnut, place them on a baking tray and put them in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes. The shell should start to peel away from the nut.

Allow them to cool and peel them. Chop into quarters.

For the soup:

Heat a little cooking oil in a large saucepan and fry the chopped onion, garlic and carrots for about 5 minutes.

Add the pumpkin cubes and keep it all moving for another 5 minutes.

Add the chestnuts, 500 ml water or vegetable stock,  nutmeg, cinnamon stick and salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil then turn down and simmer very gently for 20 – 30 minutes until the pumpkin pieces and chestnut are very soft.

Remove from the heat, take out and discard the cinnamon stick and use a wand blender to blend the soup. Don’t overdo the blending; it’s nice to find some soft tasty pieces of pumpkin and chestnut as you eat it.

Add a few drops of hot sauce and stir in well just before serving.

(If you’d like to buy the boxed set of 50 improvised recipes, inspired by our independent food shops on Essex Road, please get in touch with me in the comments and I’ll get them to you.)

Tequila Tope

Thanks to a fabulously bizarre encounter with a bunch of young French people outside the New Rose just now, I have to share this cocktail recipe with you.

I invented it around 10 years ago in El Pescadero, Baja California Sur (that’s where the photo was taken) following an incident in which a US firefighter was driving a crowd of us in a bus (long story). He was driving quite fast. We were all yelling, “Slow down!! Tope!!!”

Tope is the Mexican Spanish word for speedbump.

He didn’t speak Spanish.

Anyway. . .

Casasunnyfront1 measure tequila

3 or 4 measures freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

2 drops of tabasco or other hot sauce.

Pour your shot of tequila over a couple of ice cubes (in a glass, obvs), add the grapefruit juice then 2 drops of hot sauce.

The hot sauce flavour might not come through on the first sip, but don’t go mad and add more for a few moments as the flavour tends to creep up on your tastebuds quite slowly…

¡Buen provecho!

Another slice of yummy from Amelia

Hope you are all enjoying this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…

Many thanks to Cookfirst Amelia for this delicious Sticky Plum and Walnut Flapjack recipe.

And I’ve also discovered another great recipe blog for vegetarians, Megala’s kitchen.

Plum Flapjack.JPG


“September is one of my favourite months for seasonal baking. Apples, pears, damsons and plums a plenty, there are so many ways to bake with all these incredibly delicious and nutritious fruits. I am particularly partial to plums, due to their endless health benefits; including relief from indigestion relief and anxiety-related illness. The antioxidant power of plums can help treat osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes and obesity. It also contributes to the body’s ability to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol, cardiovascular and cognitive health, immune system strength, electrolyte balance, as well as boosts collagen production. I love walnuts, not only as they taste completely delicious, but they’re also full of vitamin E content and omega-3 fatty acids.

These flapjacks are bursting with goodness! They contain low Gi-sugar and tons of fibre – a perfect way to refuel post-workout or mid-afternoon at the office.

For a fully vegan recipe, swap the honey for some agave nectar or maple syrup.”



  • 450g fresh plums (halved, stoned and roughly sliced)
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ ground cinnamon
  • 150g coconut sugar
  • 150g coconut oil (plus extra for greasing)
  • 300g rolled porridge oats (use gluten-free if applicable)
  • 140g buckwheat or quinoa flour
  • 50g walnut pieces (roughly chopped)
  • 2 tbsp runny honey


  1. Pre-heat your oven to 200C/180C fan and grease a 20×20 cm tin with a little coconut oil – or line with baking paper if it’s non-stick.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the plums in the ground ginger  and cinnamon, with 50g of the coconut sugar and a small pinch of salt, then set aside to macerate.
  3. Gently melt the coconut oil with the honey in a saucepan.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the oats, flour, walnut pieces and remaining sugar together, then stir in the coconut oil and honey until everything is combined into a loose flapjack mixture.
  5. Grease a square baking tin about 20 x 20cm. Press half the mixture over the base of the tin, then tip over the plums and spread to make an even layer.
  6. Press the remaining oat mixture over the plums so they are completely covered right to the sides of the tin.
  7. Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden and starting to crisp around the edge of the tin. Leave to cool completely, then cut into squares.
  8. These will keep in an airtight container for 2 days or can be frozen for up to a month.


Sand sole, or witch flounder.


Just the usual day. Crossed Essex Road with Pauline, immediately crossed back again ‘cos her bus had finally arrived, witnessed a car shunt another car, bit of shouting, crossed back over the street again and popped in to Steve Hatt the fishmonger. Much banter, including terrible puns about Baghdad which I won’t repeat. When I finally stopped giggling like a child and got round to asking Marsey what was good, he recommended sand sole, “like Dover sole but cheaper”.

Never heard of it.

So I bought 2, had them skinned and cleaned and brought them home. When I looked them up I discovered that they are also known as witch sole or witch flounder. Made for me, really.

On Monday I had stolen some very fresh herbs, thyme and rosemary, from Aisling’s kitchen (thanks, Aisling!) and there were tiny tomatoes from the plants on the balcony.

For 2:

2 Sand sole, skinned and cleaned

4 sprigs of rosemary and 4 of thyme

8 small tomatoes, lightly roasted in the oven

2 crushed cloves of garlic

1/2 teaspoon seasalt

Preheat oven to 220ºC/425ºF/gas mark 7

Place the whole tomatoes on a flat tray or sheet of foil in the oven while it’s warming up.

Simply place the sole on some foil in an ovenproof dish, place the herbs, slightly pre-roasted tomatoes, garlic and salt on top. Pop in the pre-heated oven for 20 -25 minutes.

It’s that simple. SO delicious!

I served them with sauteed mixed veg; carrots, red peppers, mushrooms, broccoli.